Commentary

Barriers to Freedom

As I sat on the floor of the airport, waiting to come back to school, a cheery but robotic voice took care to remind me to not leave my baggage unattended because the threat level is at orange. The warning’s urgency was somewhat decreased by the fact that I couldn’t remember a time when it hasn’t been at Orange Alert. The Twin Towers were demolished when I was only seven years old. I remember everyone else being taken home from school by their parents while I sat in a darkened classroom playing with Kidpix. That evening my mother bought us a TV (it was promptly returned the next day) to watch footage of the attacks. A week later I went to visit my father at his federal office building and for the first time passed through the jersey barriers and metal detectors that still blanket the city. For the last nine years we’ve lived with the barriers and the metal detectors, with indefinite detentions, full body scanners, and wire taps. These measures are in many ways unprecedented, but for us, the young people of America, they are normal. We don’t know anything else. A time when we could stop in the Capitol Rotunda and give a quick speech would seem to belong to the same time as when Mr. Smith came to Washington. But once upon a time people did, and they went on planes with bottles of water, and the words habeas corpus meant something. Once upon a time, “not with” was not the same as “against.” We must remember this. You can’t regain something you don’t miss. Now the era of the Orange Alert is coming to an end. The rainbow of fear will be replaced by elevated and imminent threats, the latter being the most serious. Each alert will be accompanied by as much information as can be provided and will expire within two weeks unless the Department of Homeland Security decides to renew it. The old system was a tool for politicians to control the public that gave out little to no information, but the new one also raises issues. We can no longer brush over a threat as a block on the color wheel. Instead, we will be told that it is imminent. What does it mean to live with such danger hanging over our head? We can’t shut ourselves in a closet and huddle under blankets. We will go to school and to work and fulfill all of our other obligations, but will everything really be fine? Dread can inspire people to greatness. It can also drag us down, down towards isolationism, prejudice and selfishness of all kinds. Saying that elevated and imminent threats will come is also a tacit acknowledgement that the level we’re currently at, one with no elevated or imminent threats, is normal. Orange may not have meant anything substantive, but it was not green. It confirmed that things were not as they should be. Perhaps after a decade, this is our new normal, but there is a difference between normal and inevitable. What is now does not always have to be. We must remember that there was a time before heightened security measures, a time when we were free from fear and suspicion, because it’s hard to regain freedoms that you don’t miss. Abigail Burman is a new Upper from Silver Spring, MD.